Canadian Anti-Terrorist Policy Under Fire

In 1994, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service made Suleyman Goven a proposition: give information to CSIS on activity in the Kurdish community or risk deportation.

Goven is Kurdish and was granted convention refugee status in 1993 after coming to Canada from Turkey.
“When they questioned other people about me […] it was really stressful for me. When I hear those kind of stories, I get really depressed,” said Goven. “I feel guilty when [CSIS] goes to people’s houses and questions them about me or tries to force people to make statements against me in exchange for their [immigration] papers.”

Goven said that CSIS put him through “psychological torture” and claims agents broke into his apartment to steal documents. He said they falsely claimed that he was a part of the Kurdistan Workers Party—one of 40 groups on Canada’s terrorist entities list, which did not exist at the time that CSIS threatened him.

Goven refused to cooperate. He now has landed immigrant status and no longer has contact with CSIS. He works as a journalist and founded a Kurdish community centre in Toronto. He was one of several speakers that shared their experiences with CSIS, Immigration Canada and being labeled a terrorist at a panel discussion on Canada’s anti-terrorism methods at Concordia on Saturday.

The talk centered on how legislation such as the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act and the branding of organizations as “terrorist entities” effects resistance movements.

“They actually broke the spirit of my people in Canada,” said Sivanathan Sivaraman, a Tamil activist who was also on the panel.

In 2008, the RCMP closed a community centre for Tamils in Montreal, which Sivaraman partly owns, because of alleged links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Dominique Peschard, the president of the Ligue des droits et libertés, spoke of Canada’s terrorism policies and how the lack of transparency in the government’s classification of certain groups and individuals as terrorists puts citizens’ rights to freedom of association and privacy at risk.

One piece of legislation that Peschard finds troubling is Bill C-42, sometimes referred to as the “Secure Flight” program.

The bill would allow airlines to provide a foreign state with data about passengers on a flight if the aircraft is landing in or flying over that state. If a flight was headed to the United States, they could force the airline to hand over any passengers’ personal information that the airline possessed, for example.

“The evidence is that the bill is going to create enormous problems in our society and would have a long, far-reaching impact on civil society,” said Libby Davies in Parliament last week. The East Vancouver New Democrat MP, along with other critics, said that the legislation offers no transparency in how passenger’s information might be shared.

According to its proponents, the bill “has to do with Canada complying with a request by the United States to have air carriers disclose basic information on people flying,” said Liberal MP Paul Szabo.

The legislation, which passed its second reading on Oct. 26, 2010 with support from all parties except the NDP, is currently under debate in the House of Commons.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 22, published February 8, 2011.